Navajo Churro Sheep are a rare breed of sheep that were first brought to North America in the 16th century. They are descendants of the Churra, an ancient Iberian breed, and were obtained fairly early on by the Navajo Indian tribe. Frontiersmen soon began referring to them as Navajo Churro Sheep, which is the name they are still known by today.
Though still considered rare, this breed of sheep has survived the years because of its hardiness and adaptability to extreme climate changes and its resistance to disease. They are considered a tri-purpose breed, good for their wool, lean meat, and even their milk. They are easy breeders, often having twins, and they calve quite well on their own. They are fairly small in comparison to other breeds with ewes generally topping out at 120 pounds and rams at 175 pounds. They generally look heavier as a result of their wool, which consists of an inner coat, an outer coat, and kemp, which is a coarser fiber but which generally makes up less than 5% of their overall coat.
This is a picture of a few of our lambs’ sire. He is a good example of a full coat of wool making him appear heavier than his true weight:
As you can see in the picture, the Navajo Churro is a horned sheep…well, sometimes it is. Both the Churro ewes and rams can have horns or be polled. When they do have horns, they can have one set or they can have two sets of horns for a total of four. If they do have four horns, those horns may be fused to give the appearance of having just one thick set of horns, like you see in the ram pictured here.
Coloring on these sheep can be as diverse as the horns. Our own flock is made up of black, brown, white, badger, and pinto sheep. Our ewes are pictured below and are a good example of some of the colors found in this breed. Often a Navajo Churro will start off as one color and then fade to another, such as a black sheep going silver as it ages. They make for great wool, because the variety of color they produce on their own makes dying the wool unnecessary and the fleece itself is great for spinning.
What you’ve read above is pretty much what we’ve learned about these sheep online. I’m happy to point you towards Wikipedia and the Navajo Churro Sheep Association websites I visited for this information… or you could stay tuned. Perhaps on the next rainy day I will find some time to sit down and tell you a little about what we have learned through good old-fashioned, away from the computer, hands on interaction with these sheep. For example…
- These sheep are fast! I’m not saying they could outrun a cheetah, but I’ll give you a dollar if you can catch one in an open space.
- If you want to sell top quality wool, you need to put them in coats. Seriously. You can see the little brown ewe is wearing one in the picture above. The coats are essentially thin fabric blankets with elastic holes for the feet to go into. It’s this fabric that stops the bits of hay and vegetation from getting stuck in the fleece. That’s important beacause once it’s in there, it’s about impossible to get out.
- If you want to have a laugh, watch your wife try to catch a sheep and then wrestle to put a coat on it.